Walking London: Top Borough Enfield

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Walks in London

A walk through London’s northernmost suburb gives you a chance to reconnect with outer London’s semi-rural past

"walking the top borough Enfield in London"

Enfield was once a key section of the English home county that no longer exists: Middlesex, now only a memory and the name of a cricket club, was gobbled up some time ago by the growth of Greater London, even more so than the neighbouring counties of Essex and Sussex.

So that’s the east and south taken care of, but what happened to the areas in the west and the north of England’s capital, I hear you ask. Well, they have experienced wildly diverging fortunes: Wessex no longer exists as a proper county and leads a somewhat ghostly existence restricted to the novels of Thomas Hardy and the earldom of Prince Edward, the Queen’s youngest son, whereas the kingdom of the northern Saxons went on to have a second career in West End farces such as “Nossex please, we’re British”.

If you have ever heard of Enfield before, you have probably done so in connection with one of the following: the Enfield Rifles (the standard weapon of the British army in both WWs, built in a factory near Enfield Lock in the northeast of the town), Enfield motorbikes (a much more spurious connection: these bikes have been made in India for well over sixty years), and the Enfield Poltergeist (Britain’s most famous paranormal event, now the subject of a major TV series, which occurred in Green Street in the east of Enfield, near the reservoir). And then there is John Keats, of course, more of whom anon.

Walking Top Borough Enfield in London

To get to Enfield, take the underground train to Wood Green on the Piccadilly Line, cross the High Street and take bus no. 329 (frequent service) to the terminus. Leave the bus station towards the church and turn right into Church Street. Move past Pearson’s, one of outer London’s last surviving independent (for which read: old-fashioned) department stores, built in the 1920s when the ancient feudal Manor House – originally owned by Queen Elizabeth I – was torn down.

Turn into Market Square on the other side of the street where markets have been held since Shakespearian times …

"Market Square in top borough Enfield in London"

… and continue into the churchyard of St Andrews.

Most suburban churches around London are from the Victorian period, but this one is much older. Its most ancient bits come from the late 12th century, and although much of the original building has been destroyed over the centuries (not least in WWII), some nice treasures can be discovered inside – such as the stained glass medallion in the church window to commemorate Thomas Roos, Earl of Rutland, which dates from 1531.

"stained glass medallion commemorating Thomas Roos, Earl of Rutland in Enfield church"

The most spectacular feature of the church, however, is the tomb of Lady and Lord Raynton, Lord Mayor of London in the 17th century.

" tomb of Lady and Lord Raynton, Lord Mayor of London in the 17th century"

The church also has a footnote in the history of English literature because Thomas Hardy married his second wife here in 1914.

Florence Dugdale was the daughter of the church school’s headmaster, aged 35 when they married, while Mr. Hardy was already well into his 70s. Still, their marriage lasted for nine years, long enough for Florence to die a bitter woman (the moment those two got hitched, Mr. Hardy discovered his love for Wife no. 1 – whom he had treated rather shabbily while she was still around – and dedicated several steamy love poems to her) and to collect enough material for two Hardy biographies that she published after his death.

From the back of the church, you can see the St Andrews vicarage on your right hand side. Parts of the building originate from the 13th century, which easily makes it the oldest “active” vicarage in London.

Now turn left in the direction of the handsome row of old buildings on the other side of the churchyard …

"Enfield London - top borough"

… which features (the white house which is a little set back) the ancient building of Enfield Grammar School, est. in 1558.

John Keats went to school in top borough Enfield, and most people who know this would automatically assume that this was his alma mater. But it was not. Instead, Keats went to Clarke School, a middling boarding school (his parents wanted to send him to Harrow but could not afford the fees) which no longer exists and which originally stood in the place of today’s Enfield Town train station (about 200 metres from here, but don’t bother: there is nothing to see, believe me). Enfield Grammar’s most famous alumnus is, instead, Boris Karloff, the actor who played the monster in a series of 1930s Frankenstein movies and who, you may be surprised to hear, was not Russian at all, but English (born William Henry Pratt).

Continue straight into Holly Walk, between cottages and the school’s sporting grounds, until you reach Gentleman’s Row, formerly the most elegant street in Old Enfield.

Turn right, continuing eventually across the footbridge over the New River, …

"footbridge over New River in Enfield London - top borough"

… and move straight through the narrow passage into Chase Road where you turn right.

Charles Lamb and his sister Mary, the authors of Tales from Shakespeare, Britain’s most celebrated children’s book of the 19th century, lived in the two houses at number 87 and 89: first in the white building, from 1829 to 1833, and then – when Charles, English literature’s most saintly man, could no longer take care of his increasingly suffering, mentally ill sister – as lodgers in the other, more authentically Georgian-looking mansion next door.

"last abode of Charles and Mary Lamb, the authors of Tales from Shakespeare"

Walk back for some 50 metres before turning around the small garden on your left into Chase Side Place to the Crown and Horseshoes pub which has a very nice garden in the back with views of the New River.

"Crown and Horseshoes pub in Enfield London - top borough"

Strictly speaking, this is no river at all but a canal that was built in the early 17th century – the time of Shakespeare – to bring fresh water from Hertfordshire into London. The network of water-supplying canals was, as you can imagine, widely extended through the following centuries and went underground from about 1890.

Today, the section of the New River that you can see winding through Enfield is merely ornamental, but a pleasant reminder of this area’s past as half-countryside, half semi-rural hinterland of the metropolis. Looking around you in the gardens of the Crown and Horseshoes, you may feel that this is the sort of limbo in which Enfield exists to this very day.

Now continue right alongside the New River, …

"houses alongside New River in Enfield London - top borough"

… re-cross the bridge you came on earlier and follow Gentleman’s Row all the way into Enfield town centre. This is certainly the town’s grandest, most historical and most attractive street.

Cross the road and follow the New River into the appropriately named Town Park.

"Town park along the New River in Enfield London - top borough"

Walk around a bit and explore this fairly wild and picturesque stretch of what is actually a much longer trail called the New River Path which takes you all the way (45 km) from Hertfordshire to Islington in north central London. If that is a little too long for your taste, you may be interested to know that the path can be sub-divided into five different sections, two of which are specifically convenient since they start and finish at easy-to-reach London train stations. (You can find more details here).

But for today, we have done enough walking already. A good thing, then, that the bus station is only a few steps away – as are many nice little cafés and restaurants on Enfield’s Church Street.

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4 comments to Walking London: Top Borough Enfield

  • It is Jeff. You have to correct that lack. Come visit England soon.

  • Absolutely, Sophie. So much to see and this is just North London.

  • When I hear North London, I think of Hampstead, but I see Enfield is even further north (had to check a map.) Seems there’s enough to London to keep one occupied for life. I like that in a city.

  • I can’t believe how positively charming England is! I really must make it there someday soon!! The red-brick housing along the New River is enchanting!! I want to buy one. ;)

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